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"Unfortunate" council could not work together on budget

Posted: Saturday, June 27, 2020 | Views: 5550

"Unfortunate" council could not work together on budget

Letter to the Editor from Carlee White Gonzales, President of the Hammond City Council and District 2 representative:

On Thursday, June 26, the newspaper ran a story on the Hammond City Council’s budget passed at a meeting on the Tuesday prior. I found the story enlightening as it gave me reasons and justifications for the bizarre meeting that I ran as the city council president. On Tuesday, multiple cuts to various city departments were passed with no reason other than funding was needed for councilmen’s wish list. By a split vote we defunded half of a generator for the rec center, half of a tractor for the airport, a whole garage pit for the maintenance department and a land purchase for Zemurray Park. Those cuts totaled $354,500. The only reason that was given during the meeting was that the money was needed for the following increases to the budget (I’ll call this the wish list): a car allowance for council members, a $100,000 fund for a city council attorney, a partially funded flood study, and two increases to nonprofits. These increases totaled $254,000. As you can see, more money was cut than was needed to actually accomplish the wish list.

There was no mention in the article of a proposal to move police retirement funds of $300,000 from the police department budget back to the city’s general fund balance where it would sit unallocated. There it could be spent for anything. The reason for this propsal, I believe, was so that the police department would have to come and ask the council for those funds before a retiring police officer could receive his earned retirement funds. This proposal was denied by a 3-2 split of council votes. Why were we attempting to put money into the general fund balance that possibly could’ve been spent on something else? The general fund balance should not act as a piggy bank.

While I’m glad the reporter was able to get answers from the councilmen who voted for these cuts and increases, her article leads you to believe that their motives were expressed and understood by all at the meeting. This was not the case. As one of five members of the Hammond City Council, I had no idea three of the five members were so concerned about saving money for Covid-19 economic impact. Not once was this raised. The idea of a farmer cutting the grass at the Hammond airport was never mentioned. Is that even feasible? Did the administration conservatively estimate the sales tax revenue that we can expect while considering how Covid-19 could affect our budget? We don’t know because that question wasn’t raised nor was it answered. I think these are great questions and issues raised. However, they were not raised to me, one other councilman nor the administration prior to the meeting or in the meeting. I am disappointed in the way the majority of our council presented and then voted for their budget. While I now know the reasons for their actions thanks to the article, I think it’s unfortunate that the five members of the city council weren’t able to work together on the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget. I have higher hopes for the future.

Carlee White Gonzales
Hammond City Council President
District 2

For footage of Tuesday night's Hammond City Council meeting, click this link:
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